Young Falcons defense set to encounter Hurricane Brady


It’s true confidence can develop from not knowing better, like those times when the air is still and the winds are calm and all seems peaceful.

You barely notice the threatening clouds in the distance. You never see the storm coming until it’s too late.

Nobody is going to confuse the defense that will take the field for the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday with those of past great Super Bowl units, meaning the reputations of the 2002 Buccaneers and the 2008 Steelers and the 1985 Bears and so on are likely safe.

But there is something to be said for coming of age at the most ideal time, even when that age is still so young by NFL standards.

What the Falcons can’t know yet is how a defense that employs numerous first- and second-year players, including four rookie starters, will react when the winds begin to howl and the raindrops become monstrous and one lightning strike follows another.

In other words, when the storm known as Tom Brady hits.

The Falcons and Patriots meet in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium, and much of the focus has been placed on the fact it’s a match between the league’s best offense in Atlanta against its best defense in New England.


But what happens when roles are reversed?

How successful will a defense that, at least statistically, didn’t really worry much of anyone this season, be against arguably the greatest quarterback in history, playing in his seventh Super Bowl and going for his fifth ring?

“We are young, we are fast, we are hungry, and we’re not looking for the perfect calls each snap,” Falcons second-year safety Ricardo Allen said. “There is no such thing as a perfect call. You can try and disguise what you’re doing, but (Brady) has seen it all. He knows every defense. If you mess up, he’s not going to miss. It’s like he has a beeper in his head that tells him, ‘This guy is open.’

“So we just have to compete every down. Our communication has to be on point. We aren’t looking for just one person to have a great game or make all the plays. We all have to fight. We all have to grind.”

This isn’t exactly like San Francisco of Super Bowl XVI, when three rookie defensive backs (Ronnie Lott, Carlton Williamson and Eric Wright) in the 1980 season were major threats in a 26-21 championship victory against Cincinnati, a year that saw the 49ers secondary account for 23 interceptions. Atlanta has 12 this season.

But for a team that ranked a pedestrian 25th in yards allowed and 26th against the run and 28th against the pass and 27th in points allowed, the Falcons found something in the season’s final month or so and brought it with them into the playoffs, dominating the Russell Wilson-led Seahawks and then the Packers and Aaron Rodgers.

Here’s one thing helping Atlanta: Its young guys, such as rookies Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell and Keanu Neal and Brian Poole, are playing like old guys, and its old guys, such as Jonathan Babineaux and Dwight Freeney and Tyson Jackson, are playing like young guys.

“Well, we have no control over their experience and their background,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of his rookie defensive starters. “What we can control is our readiness, our mindset, the style and attitude we want to play. That’s part of the good thing about being young, too, that you don’t have too much other stuff to worry about other than just getting ready and getting your game in order.”

It was after Atlanta’s worst loss of the season, a 24-15 stinker to Philadelphia in which the guys trying to stop the Eagles were pretty abysmal, when Quinn amazingly said his team had a Super Bowl-caliber defense.

Coaches have the craziest ways of motivating their guys.

Or maybe not.

The Falcons are 7-1 since that setback, allowed 21 or fewer points in six of those wins and now find themselves one more fine defensive effort from perhaps being Super Bowl champions.

“This week is so tough, so I kind of gave them, ‘Hey, this is what it’s going to be like,’” said Freeney, a 15-year veteran who reached two Super Bowls with Indianapolis, winning one. “Understand that. Stay focused. When you feel yourself coming off of the tracks, pull yourself back in.”

And come Sunday, when it feels as though the air is still and the winds are calm and all seems peaceful, beware.

The storm known as Tom Brady can be fierce.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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